Conservatorships for Mentally Ill Homeless People (SIGNED)


SB 1045 would create a 5-year, opt-in pilot program for San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego Counties, making it easier to conserve individuals with serious mental illness and substance abuse disorders who refuse treatment and have been detained frequently by police. Counties would have to prove that they could provide housing and wraparound services before they could participate.


San Francisco Democratic Sen. Scott Wiener sponsored the bill, which also received backing from San Francisco Mayor London Breed and several San Francisco tourism interests, as well as the cities of Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Fairfield, and the California Psychiatric Association. They argued that current laws often prevent  people from getting the treatment they deserve even when they are unable to request it. Some public health workers said it was frustrating to see the same mentally ill people routinely cycling through on 72-hour holds. Wiener, who contends the bill would affect a small minority of homeless people, said “We do have a very large conservatorship program in California—it’s called jail.”


An array of advocates for homeless people joined the American Civil Liberties Union in maintaining that it was a mistake to make it easier to conserve people when low-cost housing and other support programs are in short supply, particularly for anyone with a criminal background. They noted that it was senseless to funnel money into the court process of expanding conservatorships when that money could be better spent giving people the housing and treatment options they need.


Californians are troubled by the presence on their streets of people who exhibit symptoms of mental illness—both because it makes neighborhoods less safe and also because it feels inhumane. But if there is general agreement over the need to do something to help, there are stark differences of opinion about what should be done. Other bills attempting to address this issue on a statewide basis failed to advance, but if these pilot programs win authorization, expect the rest of the state to closely watch the outcomes in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.


Signed by Governor Brown on September 27, 2018.